Winston-Salem native Sakari Milan graduated in May from UNC-Chapel Hill and has already landed a job as a production assistant for Tyler Perry Studios and published a children’s book.
She uses Sakari Milan as her pen name, but her full name is Sakari Singleton.
Milan said she was hoping to land a job right out of college, but it still took longer than she expected.
“Everything was turned upside down,” she said, referring to COVID-19.
Her original plan, with a bachelor’s degree in global studies was to move to Washington, D.C., and work for the government or a nonprofit.
She said many of the companies and programs she applied to were no longer hiring or had transitioned to remote work.
“I really wasn’t getting much of a response,” she said.
She calls her job with Tyler Perry Studios a blessing.
But what are the job prospects for recent graduates, especially during a pandemic?
"Since March 2020, every industry — especially the entertainment industry — has had to rethink and restructure their businesses due to the pandemic,” Andy Chan, vice president of Innovation and Career Development at Wake Forest University, said. “While some industries and organizations have successfully pivoted during this time, others are still adapting and not yet ready to make many new hires.
“Nevertheless, recent Class of 2020 grads are successfully landing jobs right now and those graduating in 2021 will as well, but perhaps not with the dream jobs they hoped for right after college.”
He suggested a couple of things to help those who are still looking for that special job.
“Newly minted grads can still experience a different type of success by: 1. Being open to getting job experience wherever possible until dream job opportunities open, and 2. Working side hustles or internships in the industry they want to enter in order to be ready for the opportunities when they arrive," Chan said.
Living in a bubble
Milan started her production assistant job with Tyler Perry Studios based in Atlanta in July. She is currently in Winston-Salem and will return to Atlanta in early November.
A part of the Tyler Perry Studios is called the campsite. It is where employees live, Milan said.
According to news reports, Tyler Perry was one of the first major filmmakers and producers in the entertainment industry to get back into production amid the COVID-19 pandemic. He has been able to do so by hiring a cast and crew to work in a quarantine bubble during shooting.
“Within that bubble, we are provided very generous accommodations,” Milan said. “We have our own housing. There are stores throughout the campsite.”
She said the stores offer free snacks, toiletries and other resources.
“Anything you could ever want is there for free,” she said.
She said Tyler Perry also provides a catering service that serves breakfast, lunch, dinner and a late-night snack, as well as food and alcohol trucks when the shows wrap for the day.
“What’s really neat about it is throughout all this, social distancing is in place and COVID precautions,” Milan said. “We’re all required to wear a mask at all times, and we are required to social distance 6 feet apart.”
She said it is a place where co-workers can social distance but still enjoy social interaction while winding down with food and drink at the end of the day.
People are tested for COVID-19 twice a week, she said.
“It’s amazing,” Milan said. “He (Tyler Perry) cares so much about ensuring that we are all healthy. He really cares about our health and safety while shooting. It makes us all feel a lot better having test results that frequently and knowing that everyone that we are living with is COVID-free.”
Changing the narrative
In addition to being a writer, Milan calls herself a leader and activist.
“I’m active in advocating for educational reform, racial justice and solidarity,” Milan said.
While in college, she focused on educating, advocating and empowering young people.
She used her pandemic lockdown time to complete and introduce a series of children’s books titled “The Tales of Camelia B.” for ages K-5.
Camelia B., an adventurous and curious 10-year-old African American girl, is the star of the book series. She and her friends travel back in time exploring history.
“The Sea Surfers” is the first book of “The Tales of Camelia B.” book series. The book describes one of the earliest voyages to the Americas: The Malians who were led by King Abubakari in 1311 — 181 years before Christopher Columbus.
“All of my books highlight hidden and unknown facts and truths in Black history and the African diaspora,” Milan said.
Milan, 22, has written other books she hopes to publish, including one about Yasufe, the first Japanese Afro-Samurai and another about Queen Amina of Zaria, the first African queen of a male-dominated society.
She hopes to have her next book published next year.
Milan said she writes her books because she believes "a child is yearning to hear — the truth!”
She said she was inspired to write the series because of a lack of Black representation in her studies during her early years in school.
“I would walk through the library, down the aisles, and look for books about people like me, and I found myself kind of limited to things about slavery or the civil rights movement and some other leaders they allowed to trickle through,” Milan said.
She said it was all important history but it dimmed her light a bit because she was reading about traumatic things, especially slavery.
Milan believes that “a key element in breaking down cultural bias, racism and division begins with uncovering and highlighting those who made positive contributions to the world.”
The goal of her series is “to correct the misrepresentations and hidden facts in history by celebrating the extraordinary contributions and achievements of Black heroes, leaders and innovators from around the world.”
She considers herself a lifelong learner and wants others to join her in continuing to uncover and rediscover the history of Black people.
Milan said she is in negotiations for a children’s TV series based on her books.
“I want our children to grow up learning more about their ancestors, not that they were just victims of bondage and violence, but their ancestors were more than that,” she said. “They come from royalty and greatness.”